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September 28, 2017

48-Hour Primer | WPG at EDM

Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea and Maurice Leggett (31) before the game between the Calgary Stampeders and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, AB. Saturday, September 24, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

There’s a sense of déjà vu every time the Winnipeg Blue Bombers line up opposite the Edmonton Eskimos.

The dates and places may change, but the storylines don’t.

Nor does the central figure of it all – a man the Bombers respect as much as any in the entire Canadian Football League: Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly.

“No. 1, he makes everyone around him better,” began Bombers defensive coordinator Richie Hall. “He’s tough. He’s resilient. He makes plays. You know he’s the leader of their football team, he’s the leader of their offence.

“You’ve got to go after the engine. If you damage the engine, then everything else falls in place. He’s been resilient all year long, so we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Here’s the thing about Reilly; the engine: No one in this league takes more vicious shots than the Eskimos’ No. 13 and keeps getting back up to bark out the next play.

The Bombers have won two of their last three meetings against the Eskimos, including a 33-26 shootout in mid-August that started Edmonton on its five-game losing skid after opening up 7-0.

The Eskimos were a different squad then – banged up all over and minus Adarius Bowman and Derrell Walker, now back from the NFL, at receiver – but while the Bombers racked up 538 yards and held the ball for 36 minutes and 12 seconds, Edmonton kept answering. Thanks to Reilly.

He was 20 of 33 for 356 yards, including TD strikes to Kenny Stafford and D’haquille Williams that were the dreaded ’50-50 balls’ the Bombers defence desperately needs to win more often.

“For the most part we held up decently the first time we played them,” said Hall. “What irritated me was the 50-50 balls or the big plays, the explosion plays. We talked about that weeks ago where they took a little two-yard route and made it a 89-yard play. When you look at their big receivers… they’ve got some guys back that we didn’t face the first time. They’re looking to make big plays.”

“We’ve seen it firsthand for a couple years where we’ll have guys covered pretty well and somehow they get their body in better position and muscle you out a little bit, box you out a little bit,” added Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea. “They’ve got some bigger receivers, but they’ve certainly got some guys that Reilly trusts and when he does throw it up there, they expect to come down with it.

“We, as a defensive backfield, have to expect to come down with it, too.”

That’s what makes Saturday’s matchup so intriguing, beyond the fact a Bombers win would give them the season series and push them to 10-3: Winnipeg is coming off one of its better defensive performances of the 2017 season, following a 29-9 win over the Ottawa REDBLACKS.

But that said, beating a REDBLACKS squad with Ryan Lindley at the controls is a lot different than meeting Reilly & Co. in Edmonton.

“We’re not where we want to be, but at the end of the day we’re 9-3,” said Hall. “We’ve got to continue to work to get better. We’ve got to continue to take care of the little things that have stopped us from being a very, very, very good defence.

“But at the end of the day, I’ll match us up with anybody. We got to go out there and just play the way we’re capable of playing and we’ll see what happens at the end.”


BOMBERS REPORT – September 28, 2017

The Bombers completed their final full practice on Thursday in advance of Saturday’s meeting with the Edmonton Eskimos in the Alberta capital.

Here are three things you should know before the team departs for Edmonton on Friday…

STEPPING IN, STEPPING UP

The Bombers won’t declare their depth chart until Friday, but Ryan Lankford continued to get the extra work with the No. 1 offence in Weston Dressler’s absence at practice on Thursday.

All that said, offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice likes to move his pieces all over the field and Lankford won’t just be lining up at slot, or wideout, or on the boundary, or field side.

“Guys don’t play one position in our system,” said LaPolice. “Everybody has to learn concepts and when you declare your roster, everyone has got to be able to rotate into those different spots. Our guys have to know one-through-six across the field, all six (receiver) spots, including the tailback, whose got to know where to line up.

“We kind of just move everybody around and run concepts, so it’s less of a ‘he’s going to take someone’s role.’ It’s just step in and try and make plays.”

MORE PRAISE FOR MOE

Here’s O’Shea when asked Thursday about the play of LB Maurice Leggett:

“He’s a playmaker. He’s one of those guys that, in different situations he’s put in, he somehow finds a way to make a play. I don’t know how else to describe him but ‘playmaker.’ It’s like when you talk about a receiver jumping up and taking a ball away… you hear it all the time from coaches, ‘C’mon, make the play!’ He’s that guy. He’s the guy who scores on a punt return; he’s a threat if he’s a returner, he can come up in the box and tackle and do it with authority. You see him rip an interception away from a guy that’s basically a sure catch… he just rips it right out of his hands. He’s just got that knack that he’s going to be around the ball and when he is, he’s going to make something happen. It’s got to be a great combination of athleticism, vision, understanding and desire. Those kind of things are pretty neat to watch.”

FYI

The Bombers added some defensive help on Thursday, signing DB Zavian Bingham to the practice roster. Bingham (5-10, 195, Jackson State) was last in the camp of the Saskatchewan Roughriders this year before suffering an injury and being released… Head coach Mike O’Shea said DE Jamaal Westerman, who was shut down for the season last week with an upper-body injury, returned home but should be rejoining the club soon.